At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Political Language

posted by Jack Kerwick

As expected, many of the terms of which our political universe consists are on display more frequently than usual during this election season.  Now, then, is as good a time as any to revisit these time-worn concepts.

Capitalism

For some reason, the self-avowed nemeses of the planned economy—whether we call this “socialism,” “communism,” or anything else—insist on describing their property arrangements of choice as “capitalism.”  Given that the latter term was coined by collectivists—communists specifically—this is beyond a merely misfortunate selection of names.  In using the language of their enemies, self-avowed “capitalists” actually weaken their own position.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

For one, the left has been remarkably successful in ensconcing the figure of “the blood-sucking ‘capitalist’” in the popular imagination. Not everyone is a doctrinaire leftist, mind you, but the left’s “march” through our culture’s institutions—the institution of popular media, specifically—has not been without its effect upon Americans at large.  Among the half-baked notions that they have imbibed is this notion of the greedy “capitalist.”

Second, “capitalism” is an “ism.”  That is, the word denotes a system.  More specifically, it implies an economic system.  Within the context of politics, the term “system” invariably suggests a consciously designed societal blueprint to the subscription of which its architect, government, compels the populace.  This image is all the more prominent when it is considered that “capitalism” is located on a continuum with such government-directed economic systems as socialism and communism.

So, the defenders of “capitalism” can all too easily be misunderstood as championing but another economic plan.  Worse, they lend themselves to being depicted as advocating a plan according to which it is “the rich,” the “capitalists,” who will be awarded the lion’s share of “the economic pie” at the expense of “the working class.”

Free Enterprise System

Sometimes the proponents of “capitalism” speak of America as a “free enterprise system.”  Granted, the latter is a preferable term to the former.  Still, though, it is confused.

The United States Constitution barely succeeded in being ratified.  Examination of both the quarrels that transpired between anti-Federalists and Federalists as well as the Constitution itself discloses a conception of America that has since fallen on hard times. America, according to this understanding, is not any sort of “enterprise system” at all, whether “free” or otherwise.

Any enterprise is distinguished on account of its end, goal, or purpose.  War would be a key example of an enterprise.  The purpose of war is victory.  It is this purpose and this purpose alone that unites the participants in a war and renders them joint-enterprisers. During times of war, the only decisions and actions that are approved are those that contribute toward, or at least do not frustrate, the realization of the end of victory. Business would be another illustration of an enterprise.  Profit is the ultimate purpose of any business and the actors in a business are joint-enterprisers whose actions are expected to serve this end.

The point here is that America was never intended to be any sort of enterprise.  In vain will we search the Constitution for a purpose to which the resources of American citizens are to be deployed.  What we do encounter when we turn to it are the conditions necessary for citizens to embark upon the enterprises of their own choosing.  Put another way, the Constitution—through its wide dispersal of authority and power—provides for the liberty that Americans were intended by their progenitors to enjoy.   But, it is crucial to grasp, this liberty is not itself an end or purpose.  Rather, it is the indispensable precondition for the pursuit of any and all purposes.

Thus, the self-declared enemies of socialism and other species of economic collectivism should from now on juxtapose with their rivals’ socialism, not “the free enterprise system,” and certainly not “capitalism,” but, simply, liberty.  

The State and ‘Statists’

There are few words that have suffered as much abuse as “the state.”  In spite of the negative connotations that it has come to assume, the word itself is a good one, for it is by far the least misleading name that we can ascribe those sovereign political entities that are the stuff of the modern world. 

The United Statesis a state.  Mind you, it isn’t the government of the United States that is a state.  The state that is America encompasses the latter’s government and its culture.    

From this perspective, two things follow.

First, anyone and everyone who isn’t an anarchist is a “statist.”  Second, anti-collectivists should refrain from chiding collectivists for being “statists” and, instead, simply call them “collectivists.”

Conclusion

These are just some of our key political terms that need to be liberated from the ambiguity in which they’ve been cast.  This is no merely academic exercise, for how we think depends upon the words we use.  

 

“Conservatives” and Martin Luther King, Jr.

posted by Jack Kerwick

Every January,America honors the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Perhaps because it has now been decades since this occasion has been declared a federal holiday, most Americans today—especially the young—have no recollection of just how much resistance its proponents faced.  More specifically, the lion’s share of this resistance came from just that party whose media apologists now regularly join with their leftist counterparts in paying the obligatory praise to this iconic reverend.

The self-sworn guardians of Republican “conservative” orthodoxy, those anti-leftists who spend several hours each day at least five days a week (correctly) drawing attention to the socialistic agenda of Barack Obama and his party, invariably pay homage to Dr. King.  This is, at the very least, ironic, for far from being the conservative hero of popular Republican lore, King was not only a leftist, but a radical leftist—whether measured by the standards of our generation or those of his own.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. upon whom Republicans routinely lavish praise is a fiction.  More precisely, it is a fiction spawned from the union of ideological convenience and intellectual laziness.  This King, a virtual saint who tirelessly promoted and died for the sake of a vision of color-blindness, is a prophet who offered to America its one and only chance at redemption.  For this legendary figure, race or color is as morally relevant a characteristic as a wart or a pimple.

But, as black leftist and King admirer Michael Eric Dyson insists, only by focusing on a single line from a single speech—King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—can Republicans justify this reading of King.  By now, it is with the greatest of ease that most Americans can recite this famous line: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  In his I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr., Dyson laments “the conservative misappropriation” of King’s words and insists that King is not the “advocate of a color-blind society” that Republicans and “conservatives” make him out to be (emphasis mine).

Dyson argues compellingly for his contention that King was a radical.  To begin with, let us look at King’s position on what we today call “affirmative action.”

Republicans routinely assume that since King was a staunch champion of “equal opportunity,” he would never have countenanced “affirmative action” policies.  But as Dyson is quick to show, this assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

According to King, “the struggle for rights is, at bottom, a struggle for opportunities,”  it is true, yet he was equally insistent upon his belief that “with equal opportunity must come the practical, realistic aid which will equip” blacks to “seize” this opportunity.  King declared that “the nation must not only radically readjust its attitude toward the Negro in the compelling present, but must incorporate in its planning some compensatory consideration for the handicaps he has inherited from the past” (emphasis mine).

King, then, rejected the dichotomous terms in which the Republican relates “equality of opportunity” with “equality of results.”  To put the point more bluntly, King very much favored a system—a “massive” system, as he described it—of mostly race-based policies providing blacks with preferential treatment.  “I am proposing,” King wrote, “that, just as we granted a GI Bill of Rights to war veterans, America launch a broad-based and gigantic Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged, our veterans of the long siege of denial” (emphases mine).

King admitted that “the idea of reforming the existing institutions of” American society that he once held was a mistake. He came to believe that nothing less than “a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values,” is needed (emphasis mine).   Such a “fundamental transformation,” as Barack Obama would put it some forty years later, is necessary, for it became King’s considered judgment that “America is a racist country.”  Most whites, King asserted, “are unconscious racists” who, as such, must be compelled to insure blacks their just desserts.

America, according to King, “was born in genocide,” “racial hatred,” and “racial supremacy.”  Insofar as it was founded by slave holders—particularly those slave holders who authored the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence—it “has a lot of repenting to do.”  Blacks had good reason to be distrustful ofAmerica, King proclaimed, because its creed as it is embodied in the Declaration “has never had any real meaning in terms of implementation” in the lives of blacks.  Furthermore, “a nation that put as many Japanese in a concentration camp as”Americadid during World War II “will put black people in a concentration camp,” King assured his followers.

This “reconstruction of the entire society,” this “revolution of values” for which King called has a name, and it is a name that he ascribed to it.  It is called “democratic socialism.

Many people today tend to look upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as being the civil rights movement’s two signature achievements.  This, though, is not a view that King shared.  Such laws and the changes that they attended “were at best surface changes,” he said, “not really substantive changes” at all.  Moreover, since these bills had become law, “the plight of the Negro poor” had actually “worsened [.]”  King was convinced that “the roots” of the problem lie in “the system rather than in men or faulty operations.”  Hence, he concluded, the antidote lies in “a redistribution of economic power.”

Now, King confesses that what he is “saying” is “that something is wrong…with capitalism [.]”  This is “the system” that is the root of the great injustices on which King sets his sights.  In order, then, to address injustice, this system must be abolished in favor of another.  With what system does King seek to replace “capitalism?”  His answer is to the point.  Since “there must be a better distribution of wealth,” “maybe America must move toward a Democratic Socialism” (emphases mine).

Not only did King charge America with being a “racist” country founded in racial “genocide” and “hatred.”  Not only did he demand the abolition of economic liberty as Americans had traditionally conceived it—“capitalism”—in favor of “Democratic Socialism.”  King accused America of being “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today,” characterized the Vietnam War as “senseless” and “unjust,” and declared thatAmerica’s prosecution of the Vietnam War was “racist.”

There is one final consideration that accentuates the irony of self-sworn “conservatives”—“Reagan conservatives,” as many of them like to regard themselves—heaping praise upon King: King disdained Ronald Wilson Reagan.  That he held Reagan in contempt becomes obvious when we remember that King very rarely disparaged those public figures with whom he disagreed.  Yet in Reagan’s case, he was ready to make an exception.  Of Reagan King stated: “When a Hollywood performer, lacking distinction even as an actor, can become a leading war hawk candidate for the presidency only the irrationalities induced by a war psychosis can explain such a melancholy turn of events.”

The civil rights movement of which King was at the vanguard began as a revolt against Southern-style Jim Crow segregation.  Under this system, not only did government directly practice racial discrimination but it as well compelled private property owners to engage in this activity.  There is no mystery as to why any self-styled disciple of liberty would commend King for the courage and conviction that he displayed resisting this great injustice.

However, it is either ignorance or intellectual dishonesty that accounts for why they would heap praise upon him for the incalculable contributions he made toward the advancement of a leftist agenda that is supposed to be against everything for which they stand.

Ron Paul, The Golden Rule, and Christianity

posted by Jack Kerwick

On January 16, the Republican presidential candidates met for but another debate inSouth Carolina.  As usual, Texas Congressman Ron Paul was the proverbial ant at the picnic.

Twitter feedback showed that more people found favor with Paul’s performance than they found with that of any other candidate.  Even Fox News had to acknowledge this.  His responses to questions concerning foreign policy, however, elicited their shares of boos. 

This in and of itself is to be expected; the Republican Party is the party, not of conservatism, but of neoconservatism—regardless of what its spokespersons in Washington and the so-called “alternative” media would have us believe.  And neoconservatism is known for nothing if not its promotion of “American Exceptionalism”—i.e. the doctrine under the cover of which neoconservatives are forever in search of new dragons forAmerica to slay, new opportunities forAmerica to project upon the world its military power.

What was unexpected, though, and more than a bit disconcerting, was the reaction of the mostly Christian audience to Paul’s call for adherence to the Golden Rule in foreign affairs.  There was no time during the entire evening that the audience booed as loudly as it did when Paul, echoing Jesus, implored his country to do unto others as she would be done by.

As of this writing, I have already heard plenty of pundits note (with delight) that Paul was booed.  Yet I haven’t heard one of these same pundits—most, mind you, who claim to be Christian—note the irony in a Christian audience jeering a Christian candidate for invoking the cardinal teaching of Christ.  This omission on the part of the media is as thought provoking as the detail that they omitted.

Granted, the old saying, “Do as Jesus would do,” is much easier said than done.  For one, the teachings of Christ come to us by way of the written word—texts that lend themselves to more than one interpretation.  Secondly, even when we are convinced that we have discovered the most reasonable interpretation, Christ’s teachings, like all teachings, are general: they do not specify the actions that you or I should take in this or that situation.

Still, the Golden Rule is a principle of justice.  Indeed, it is ultimately the principle of justice, for the Golden Rule is nothing less than the principle of reciprocity.  However, while it is nothing less than the demand that each person reciprocates the treatment that he receives from others, it is something more than this.  The Golden Rule, as Jesus articulated it, is the demand to love others as we love ourselves. 

The Golden Rule, in other words, is the thread that unites Jesus’ teachings into a single unitary vision. 

Apparently, the crowd in South Carolina booed Ron Paul because, somehow, they interpreted his invocation of the Golden Rule as something on the order of a call for national weakness or, perhaps, even pacifism.  While there have indeed been Christians who have read Jesus’ teachings as an invitation to pacifism, they have never constituted more than a small minority.  On the contrary, it is the Golden Rule in foreign policy that informed the development of traditional Christian “just war” theory—a theory, by the way, that not one candidate either on stage in South Carolina or in the White House, for that matter, ever so much as acknowledges.  Evidently, the self-declared disciples of Christ who cheered on Newt Gingrich’s insistence that we follow Andrew Jackson by “killing” our enemies while booing Ron Paul’s call to follow Christ also hold this “just war” tradition in low regard—if, that is, they can be said to regard it at all. 

It is true that a person may very well be a good Christian, a thoughtful Christian, and take exception to his religion’s teaching on war or any other issue.  In fact, inasmuch as a Christian’s criticism of any aspect of his faith tradition is motivated by genuine thoughtfulness, it is in keeping with the spirit of Christianity, for the latter posits the knowledge and love of God as our supreme end.  In engaging his fellow Christians, including the great lights of past centuries, the Christian grows in his faith while growing his faith.

In other words, there is no vice, and much virtue, in a Christian’s endeavoring to secure a rational ground for his faith.   This is because in order to critique any dimension of his tradition he must first come to terms with it. 

But this is exactly what the good Christians of South Carolina who booed Ron Paul failed to do.  And those self-styled Christians in the “conservative” media who refuse to call them out on this are equally guilty on this score.

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

“Conservative” Media

posted by Jack Kerwick

Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have the two most highly rated talk shows in the country.  This has been the case for quite some time. 

But although Limbaugh and Hannity remain numbers one and two, respectively, their ratings have decreased precipitously during recent months: Limbaugh has lost about a third of his audience while Hannity has lost over a quarter of his. 

This phenomenon may be only temporary.  On the other hand, it’s possible that the very same fate that befell their leftist counterparts in the “mainstream” during the last few decades is now being visited upon self-avowed “conservatives” in the so-called “alternative” media.

In short, just as the left’s monopoly over the creation and dissemination of the news gave way to the rise of Fox News and talk radio, perhaps the monopoly that Limbaugh and company achieved over “the alternative media” is now giving way to the internet and satellite radio. 

This thesis is more than a bit plausible.

For a long enough period of time, the Republicans held control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.  Yet not only did Republicans fail to contract the federal government. They succeeded at expanding it: during their tenure the government assumed more domestic and foreign engagements than ever before.

With the exception of some episodic nods of disapproval here and there, however, “conservative” commentators offered nothing in the way of sustained, serious, substantive criticisms.  Instead, they continued to pummel the Democratic opposition while transforming every objection to the Republican Party’s aggressive Big Government agenda into an expression of “liberalism.

The problem is that Limbaugh, Hannity, and most of their colleagues persist in whistling the same tune today.

Admittedly, after Republicans suffered devastating losses at the voting booths in 2008, Republican commentators and politicians have expressed regret over how their party “lost its way” by “betraying” its “conservative principles.”  But beyond such generic issuances, no specific apologies or regrets are ever uttered. 

How exactly is it that the GOP “lost its way?” Who exactly “betrayed” its “conservative principles?”  What exactly did you do to contribute to your party’s reversal of fortunes? 

These are the questions to which the talking heads of the “alternative media” and the politicians for whom they apologize have never provided answers. 

It isn’t just that talk radio has lost droves of listeners that intrigues.  It is the time frame within which it is losing listeners that supplies much food for thought.

Barack Obama is a disastrous president.  His popularity among Americans fell more precipitously, and more rapidly, than that of any other president in our history.  Millions and millions of us believe, along with Rush Limbaugh, that Obama wants nothing more or less than to substitute for the historicalUnited Statesa socialist utopian of his own imagination.  So, Obama needs to be defeated as of yesterday.

Within less than a year, the goal of defeating this president could very well come to pass, for the Republicans are in the midst of nominating a candidate who will take the fight to Obama.

One would think that given the convergence of these two events, more people than ever before would be availing themselves of “the alternative media.”  Conservatives, neoconservatives, libertarians, independents, “moderates,” and even disenchanted Democratic liberals—of whom there are many—would regularly consume the latest from the “conservative” voices of the airwaves. 

So we would think.  

But such is not the case.

It isn’t, of course, that people have reconsidered their all too justified judgments of Obama and his Democrats.  Nor is it the case that millions from across the political spectrum aren’t concerned about the outcome of this next election. 

It is just that more and more people, eager to engage genuinely unfettered voices, are circumventing Big Corporate Media in both of its authorized rightist and leftist varieties in order to drink of the ocean of internet magazines and blogs.  There is a conservative or anti-leftist media:  but it is to be found on-line.  

One step toward regaining some of their lost credibility that Limbaugh, Hannity, and the others can take would be to start treating Ron Paul a bit more respectfully.  Paul, along with millions of the most demographically disparate Americans, is defying both the conventional wisdom as well as the two-party system that embodies it.

After that, they should consider abandoning the notion that George W. Bush, a man who, along with his Republican Congress, presided over the largest expansion of the federal government since Lyndon Banes Johnson’s “Great Society”, was a great “conservative” president.  

Jack Kerwick, Ph.D.

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